Friday, June 18, 2010

Mmmmama used to say, take your time

A few weeks back, I observed over at Political Betting that the coalition didn't seem to be enjoying much in the way of a honeymoon, with the first post-election polls showing the Liberal Democrats significantly down, and the Conservatives enjoying only a slender lead over Labour. The site's owner, Liberal Democrat Mike Smithson (who's firmly on the Tory-leaning wing of the party) shot back as quick as a flash - "honeymoon or not, the next election isn't until 2015. Get used to it." It was an oddly touchy comment given that I hadn't been making a prediction about the longevity of the coalition one way or the other. But in the light of Smithson's remarks, it's even more strange to see him now suggest that Labour are mad to take as long as 15 weeks to select a leader, because they need someone in place to respond to the coalition's cuts NOW. Why? Forget about an election in 2015 - even if we were expecting the coalition to collapse in a heap in 2012, what Labour say or do right now wouldn't be terribly relevant.

In truth, the question I would have is not so much whether Labour are taking too long, but whether this is all happening much too fast. Gordon Brown left them no choice, of course, but it seems to me the unreal period immediately after an election is absolutely the worst moment for party members to be trying to reach a sound judgement over who they want to be - as the broadcasters would now put it - their "Prime Ministerial candidate". The Conservatives made two utterly disastrous choices at the same stage of the electoral cycle - William Hague in 1997, and Iain Duncan Smith in 2001. It may not be entirely a coincidence that they made a wiser choice (from an electability point of view, I mean) in 2005 on a slightly more prolonged timetable - indeed, we know it's not, because it was the party conference in September of that year that was the dramatic turning-point in Cameron's fortunes.

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